Thursday, April 29, 2010

Unusual School

Recently, my husband told me all about his first elementary school. And I just thought he had the most unusual experience, so I have to share it on this blog.
His first elementary school was a private school that he attended for two years before he had to switch to a regular public school for financial reasons. The typical classroom that everyone envisions with kids sitting at their desks, or all around the room, was not a part of his school. All the kids had their own "cubicle-like" space and taught themselves! They called on the teacher when they needed help or needed to ask a question by placing a little flag on top of their cubicle! I cant stop putting all these exclamation points because that is how shocked I felt when I heard about this. Its gets even more interesting... the learning was self-directed, in the sense that the kids set goals for themselves, due dates for when they wanted their goals accomplished, and if they failed at meeting their own timeline they got "demerits" . When they accumulated good points for meeting goals, they got "merits" and were able to get things for free at the school store. This sounds like a very business-oriented school. I think its kind of funny that today, my husband is in the business field.
I simply do not understand how it was possible to sit down a bunch of seven year olds and make them learn alone, without having the teacher standing there and constantly explaining everything. How do you make them pay attention and not slack off? The way this worked is simply beyond me. But apparently it did, because my husband taught himself how to read and write and everything else a "normal" kid his age was supposed to know how to do. He was even learning English! (This was in Ukraine). He did say though that when he switched to the regular school his math skills were a little low and he had to catch up a bit. I guess he should have set higher goals. Still, the fact that this kind of learning was as successful as it was really surprises me. If anyone would have told me that seven years olds could teach themselves sitting in cubicles I would have thought they were crazy.

Random Blog Post

Whenever I think about education and my future as a teacher, I cannot help but compare my school experiences in the United States to my experiences in Ukraine. I think that really helps me think about schooling in a more multi-faceted way. There are definitely many pros and cons when it comes to both approaches, and I definitely do not have a definite answer for what is better or worse, or what is the right or wrong way to teach kids. I am just trying to put forth the differences and maybe even analyze them in some way.
One of the biggest differences between schools in Ukraine and America is that in Ukraine there is no ranking, and all classrooms are heterogeneous classrooms. However, I do not think thats the case because Ukrainian school administrators are so progressive and have consciously decided that all kids learn better in combined classrooms. Its simply due to the fact that the population in Ukraine is much less diverse than that of the United States. There is virtually no immigrant population. The recent Soviet Union probably also played its part with putting everyone more or less on the same level. Class divisions are a little less distinguished when it comes to culture and the way people behave. Heterogeneous classrooms are much more difficult to accomplish in a country like the United States.
There are many differences between an American and Ukrainian education that are difficult to pinpoint, but the effects are evident. I am not saying this at all out of pride, but when it comes to grade school, America is missing something. There are kids in fourth grade that still do not know how to read. Kids in high school cant do simple algebra. This is virtually unheard of in Ukraine. I attended a Ukrainian school for first, second, and a little bit of third grade, and by that point, everyone in the class could read and write with ease. By the time I left Ukraine I was very good at multiplication and division. When I came to school in New Hampshire, they did not even test me, and they offered to bump me up two grades. My parents thought that would be too much, so they opted for just putting me one grade up. Some of the Russian kids in my class were moved up in a similar fashion. And honestly, I was not challenged at all. Its kind of funny, but I felt very insulted when I was in fifth grade, and the teacher made us to all these little activities and crafts. I thought it was so useless, and I felt like the teacher was treating us like babies. I really blew up when the teacher made us color in a math activity. I thought it was the most useless thing, because it wasn't art, and I did not see what was the point of coloring in math. So I refused to do the activity, and the teacher had to bring me out of the classroom and have a serious talk with me. Its kind of funny, but what is not funny is that the same algebra that I did in 7th grade in America, kids in Ukraine do in 5th grade. While in my American fifth grade we were still doing long division and coloring useless little papers. I have to admit, I was in ESL at the time, but when halfway through the year they moved me into a regular classroom the story was pretty much the same. The only different thing I remember learning in the regular fifth grade classroom was a little bone anatomy. I would also like to point out that I did not go to a great school in Ukraine. Actually, most kids in my school were poorer than the average Ukrainian.
I am not sure what makes this difference. But I think attitude, expectations, and "seriousness" have much to do with it. School is a very serious thing in Ukraine. On the contrary, kids in America are "babied" a little bit. Expectations are certainly lower. In Ukraine, alot less was tolerated. Two mistakes in your math homework meant a letter grade off. I know that sounds harsh, but it worked. And I really do not think anyone suffered psychological damage because of it. I do agree though that kids in Ukraine hate school more than American kids do. I am not going to lie about that. And I also wish there was a little bit more analysis when it comes to history and literature in Ukrainian classrooms. Ukraine has to make some of its own improvements too. But I think Ukraine's problems are much easier to fix. Simply introduce a few different aspects to the curriculum and you are done. I think fixing the American school system is much harder. I am not sure why, but its just a whole different story.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Shor - Education is Politics

I really have to admit this article was a pain to read. Sometimes I could not even see the words clearly on the pdf file. I am also kind of tired of all these complex global issues. I do not know if anyone else feels that way, but I feel that the issues we often discuss are so immense and any solutions are so impossible to implement anytime soon in an effective way that it almost makes my head hurt. I think I just think about it to much.

"Education is more than facts and skills. It is a socializing experience that help' make the people who make society".
This quote is basically the main point of this article. The author of this article certainly believes that socialization is even a more important of a goal in schooling than the knowledge that is being transferred from the teacher unto the students. That seems kind of foreign to me personally, since my life revolves around my circle of friends and family that does not even uphold the values taught in the larger society and and I cant really relate to the larger context in any life-practical manner. Maybe its because I am an immigrant. But I suppose he is right. Schools are there to create future active members of a larger society. I just hope it will not become a place where kids go to get indoctrinated. School values and familial values often clash, especially for people who may not be "in the culture of power". And I just have the tendency to think that producing all these perfect active members of a common society might mean that one common ideology will be pushed on kids.
Here is an independent film I found on Youtube that deals with some current ideologies that are popular on campuses all over America. There are ten parts, but I only watched the first one..I think it says many interesting things...

"To many people, the very idea of regaining any real control over social institutions and personal development is abstract and 'nonsensical.' In general ... many people do see societies economic, social, and educational institutions as basically self-directed, with little necessity for them to communicate and argue over the ends and means of these same institutions" (1979. 163)."
I guess this quote is about me. Not the "personal development part" (I think personal development has nothing to do with all of the other aspects that the author touched upon in this quote). But it totally doesn't bother me. I think the same is true for most other people, even though they do not like to admit it. Voting turn-outs are very low and most people do not concern themselves with political matters. I am not saying its good or bad. It very well might be a bad thing for the country and for American society. I am just saying that its true in my life, and most people do not have the time or the inclination to get involved in anything outside of their family, friends, or maybe a church group.

"Large numbers of students are refusing to perform at high levels. demoralizing the teachers who work with them. At time", performance strikes become organized resistance to authority, with leadership and articulate demands. But most often the students' refusal 10 perform appears as low motivation. low test scores and achievement, and it "discipline problem,"
Reading this quote kind of makes me wonder, what distinguishes these students from the ones that do achieve? Many people from working or middle class schools and families do achieve a whole lot, and I know many people like that personally. Obviously, many smart and high achieving people come out of these "failed institutions". Do schools work better for people with certain kinds of personalities? I do not have the answer to that... I am just wondering.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Citizenship in School by Kliewer

I think this week's article is rather difficult. Its difficult in the sense that I do not know how to respond to it. Many of the values held by the author of this article are also my own. I believe that everyone can learn and advance, especially if given the right atmosphere. I believe that kids with Down Syndrome can learn and not be a burden to society. They can become contributing members of society and form relationships in which both sides can learn and benefit. I do believe all that, and if I had a child with Down Syndrome in my elementary school class I would do my best to integrate them into the curriculum. I wholeheartedly believe Vygotsky's words, "Why do the higher functions fail to develop in an abnormal child? Under development springs from what we might call the isolation of an abnormal child from his collective." (p. 199)

However, I do not completely "buy' this article either. The author presented many theories and ideologies, but very little practical explanations for how his theories could be implemented in schooling. I agree that completely integrating children with Down Syndrome can work in preschools and even in elementary schools. As one teacher of pre-school aged children said,
"It's not like they come here to be labeled, or to believe the label.
We're all here-kids, teachers, parents, whoever-it's about all of
us working together, playing together, being together, and that's
what learning is. Don't tell me any of these kids are being set up to
fail."It works when all you are doing is playing and learning about the environment.

But I do not see how kids with severe Down Syndrome (I have worked with kids with Down Syndrome before) could perform on the same level in high school. I do not see how they could do Calculus or Chemistry ( I am terrible at both myself). But I suppose if a child with Down Syndrome sits in the class, it might benefit their development and it probably will not affect the class for the other students. Down Syndrome is rare, and there probably would not be more than one child in a classroom ever. I also think that they should always have an assistant with them.

I did find one statement that slightly answered the question of how integrating people with Down Syndrome could be implemented.
"As early as the first grade, Japanese students are posed arithmetical problems
of some complexity and allowed up to a week to solve the problems. They are to criticize one another's approaches, and to tryout different roles vis-a.-vis the problem. Teachers deliberately avoid serving as a source of answers, although they may coach, direct, or
probe in various ways. (Gardner, 1991, p. 221)"

I also just want to mention that there is a huge variation in severity when it comes to Down Syndrome. The severity determines how behind the subject is from the norm. I am sure that there are plenty of people who do not have a severe form of Down Syndrome who could function very successfully in society and probably should not be segregated from regular education classes under any circumstances.

To conclude, I did some research on Down Syndrome and found a great statement in Wikipedia that reflects my beliefs with some modifications, "In education, mainstreaming of children with Down syndrome is becoming less controversial in many countries. For example, there is a presumption of mainstream in many parts of the UK. Mainstreaming is the process whereby students of differing abilities are placed in classes with their chronological peers. Children with Down syndrome may not age emotionally/socially and intellectually at the same rates as children without Down syndrome, so over time the intellectual and emotional gap between children with and without Down syndrome may widen. Complex thinking as required in sciences but also in history, the arts, and other subjects can often be beyond the abilities of some, or achieved much later than in other children. Therefore, children with Down syndrome may benefit from mainstreaming provided that some adjustments are made to the curriculum.[17]
I do not think there should be "adjustments in the curriculum" because I do not want to see the learning experience of the majority affected. But I do think each child with Down Syndrome should have an assistant with them, someone who will work with them individually in order to push them along and make sure they are following the class.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Social Justice Event

Yesterday I attended a social justice event at Brown University. I searched online and found an event titled "A Day Without a Mexican", and even though we did not specifically discuss Mexicans and illegal immigration in class, I thought it would be great social justice topic because it is an issue that is very relevant to today's society. There were many other events about other cultures, Indian cooking, Slavic Dances, etc. , but I went with "A Day without a Mexican" because its an actual current issue (even though the Slavic Dances were very enticing, since I am Slavic myself).
When me and my husband got there, we noticed that we were the only really white people there. There was Mexican candy laid out on the table. Just for the record, Mexican candy is very hot and spicy. Burn-your-tongue-off kind of spicy. Then we watched an hour and forty minute long mockumentary about the importance of Mexicans, and other Latino workers, to the American, and especially Californian, economy.

The video was actually really funny and well-made. It shows what would happen if all the Mexicans suddenly disappeared. The disappearance of Mexicans from California first and foremost effected California's agricultural economy. All the fruit was rotting and tomatoes became an expensive commodity. Most of the restaurants closed down because of the lack of employees. Schools closed because 20% of elementary school teachers in California are Latino. Many industries suffered due to the lack of consumers. The border patrol was out of a job. All of California was in chaos. Here is an alternate view about how the immigration of Mexicans hurts America, although the film claims that the amount Mexicans take in welfare payments is nothing compared to the economic contribution they make as low-wage workers.

The topic of invisibility and marginalization (Carlson) was brought up. Although the film was about the marginalization of Mexicans and not gays, Carlson's article really pertained to the film. The Mexicans were often marginalized and labeled as "the others". It wasn't until their disappearance that the rest of California began to appreciate them and call them "our Mexican brothers and sisters". It wasn't until they became literally invisible, that the community really started to care about them.

One could also notice many of the points Peggy McIntosh made played out in the film. For example, she said, "I can be pretty sure that my neighbors [in a new] location would be neutral or pleasant to me". Many Mexicans can never be sure of that, since when Mexicans move into an area, they are often seen as polluting the neighborhood, and in this film, they were seen as the pollutants of the whole state of California. Another one of McIntosh's points that literally applied was "I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group". In the film, there was only one Mexican who was "left behind", and she became a sort of spokes person and representative for all the missing Mexicans. Another very relevant one is"If a traffic cop pulls me over, or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure that I havent been singled out because of my race". The same is certainly not true for Mexicans, who are often more suspected by authorities. Many many more of the points in the McIntosh article apply to Mexicans and other Latinos, and the film certainly portrayed that from beginning to end.

Kozol could also be applied to the film, since much like the blacks and other minorities that inhabit Mott Haven, California has plenty of areas that are similarly inhabited by Mexicans. Many of them also live in poverty and in conditions similar to that of Mott Haven. Many cant get the benefits they deserve, even if they are not illegal aliens. Its safe to say that many Mexicans are assumed to be illegal just because of their race.

Overall, I really liked the film. It was hilarious to watch and very practical in the sense that it showed that we should appreciate Mexicans and that they are indispensable to our society and community. However, the film did not exactly line up with the "equality" topic that is so central to our class. The film did ask white Americans to work to place Mexicans on an equal level with themselves, or even see Mexicans as equal human beings. It was more of like, "We need the Mexicans to do our dirty work, and we cant live without them". Nevertheless, I still liked the film and I thought it was very relevant and realistic, without focusing on idealistic goals and on visions for the future society of America.

Friday, April 9, 2010

"Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work" Anyon

I thought this article was very interesting to read and I have certainly experienced many of the points made in the article throughout my own schooling experience. Although I have only went to working and middle class schools, I think the same patterns can be observed within one school. In my high school, we had the low level classes, college prep classes, and high honors classes, as well as a few AP classes. The working class schools described in the article can be compared to the low-level classes at any given school and so on.....

"...the working classes for docility and obedience, the managerial classes for initiative and personal assertiveness".
This statement is certainly true, according to my own experience. Most of the low level classes that I observed from day to day at my high school focused heavily on discipline. The kids in those classes cared about discipline more than anything else, and talked about disciple much more than school work. They always seemed to feel like they were going to get in trouble. I never felt like I was threatened with "getting in trouble", and it was strange to me that they had those kinds of attitudes. I always felt like I was able to negotiate with teachers and explain to them the situation, even if I had done something wrong. And even if I did not have a good excuse, I did not blame everything on the administration, like the kids in low-level classes often did. It seems like to them, school was a policing agent that was always on their case...One of the quotes said that "The teacher's control thus often seemed capricious", and I have certainly observed that kind of attitude from the kids in the low-level classes. In the honors classes, on the other hand, every student expected the rules to be logical and necessary, which they usually were.

"There were several writing assignments throughout the year but in each instance the children were given a ditto, and they wrote answers to questions on the sheet."
This is certainly true in low level and even college prep courses. They are often not very analytical and require very little essay writing. Most of the honors courses required many analytical essays throughout the year.

"Work tasks do not usually request creativity. Serious attention is rarely given in school work on how the children develop or express their own feelings and ideas, either linguistically or in graphic form. On the occasions when creativity or self-expression is requested, it is peripheral to the main activity or it is "enriched" or "for fun."
Although the creative approach is better than the approach of the working class schools, I often find that teacher's do not develop effective creative assignments. Most of the time, creative assignments are "just for fun". Most of the time, I thought the assignments were stupid, useless, and redundant. They often do not teach you anything new. They are often just for the sake of "creativity", just so the teacher can say he or she have added a creative component to their lesson plan. In my experience, I have had few well constructed creative assignments. Maybe its an area in which teachers need more expertise.

"Even if you don't know [the answers], if you think logically about it, you can figure it out."
This was certainly the attitude in my AP classes and most of my honors classes. Work was very independent. You were trained in analytical thinking. Connections, analysis, and independent learning were driving the class.
Here's another article I read on the topic of Social Class and schools

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Gender and Education

Overall, I found it pretty hard to find much meaningful information about gender inequality and education. Most of the information online is either about third world countries, or higher education in the United States. Obviously, girls are disadvantaged when it comes to education in developing countries, but does the United States have the same problem?

I did non-stop research for about half an hour already, and I did not find much meaningful information regarding the United States. I only found one article that focused on gender in American K-12 classrooms.
Here's a short summary of the article:
  • There are fundamental differences between the learning capabilities of girls and boys. The reasons for these differences are unclear, although biology is one of the factors considered. Regardless of the possible causes of these differences, educators must focus on equity, not equality.
  • Girls, on average, receive higher grades than boys throughout middle and secondary schools.
  • Teachers tend to give boys more attention since they are typically more aggressive and are more likely to have behavioral problems.
  • Boys are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.
  • Since girls get less attention, they get less positive or negative feedback from teachers.
  • Stereotypes exist regarding what subjects are considered "girl" subjects and "boy" subjects.
  • Despite the perceived stereotypes, gender gap in mathematics and science is closing (regarding enrollment and grades). It looks that this article was written a while ago, so I think the statistics are probably even more in favor of girls nowadays.
  • Girls still lag behind boys however, when it comes to high stake standardized test scores.
  • Females tend to do better in the humanities.
  • Males tend to excel in technology related classes.
For the most part, I think the points this article has made are all true, although in my experience I have not noticed large gender gaps between the sciences and the humanities. In my high school, most of the students in honors classes were girls. Once again, in my experience, although there were more girls than boys in honors classes, the boys tended to do better on the SAT's.